South Africa

‘Blasphemy’, defined as “unlawfully, intentionally and publicly acting contemptuously towards God” is a common law criminal offence in South Africa. Some sources suggest that the more recent constitution has made the ‘blasphemy’ law unenforceable, due to its protections on freedom of expression, and also on anti-discrimination grounds as the old offence only applied to ‘blasphemy’ against Christianity.

However, this has not been tested in law.

Convictions have been rare for many decades and the last conviction we can record was in 1968. This was against the editor of Varsity for coverage of an event which discussed the topic “Is God Dead?”, quoting participants as saying “We must write God off entirely” and “[God] is beginning to stink”. The editor was convicted, but received only a caution.

In addition to the criminal law, the civil law Equality Act (2000) forbids hate speech defined as “words” based on various grounds including religious grounds “against any person”, with intent to be, among other things, “hurtful” . The terms “words” and “hurtful” seem to suggest that a very broad range of speech about religion could in principle fall foul of the act, though the framing as hate speech and qualification that such speech targets a person may narrow the law down to properly a hate speech law. Indeed, it does not in appear that in practice the Equality Act has been used as a de facto ‘blasphemy’ law.